Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Recommendation Guest Post #17: Mark Pawson

"For over 20 years I've sold a selection of self-published print creations which span the territory from zines to artists books, and recently I've been reminiscing about some inspiring publications from the 90s, and wondering if any of them were still available, with the intention of getting hold of copies and making them available to a new younger audience and people who missed them first time around. Most of the titles I searched for had been unavailable for years, but I was delighted to find that DUPLEX PLANET was still available.

In 1979, fresh out of Art School in Boston, USA, David B. Greenberger took a job as activities coordinator at the Duplex Nursing Home. As he chatted to the elderly residents and got to know each of them individually he became fascinated by their conversations, they had led long and varied lives, many had lived through the great depression and two world wars and had a wealth of experience and viewpoints that they were happy to share.

He realised that this was a unique opportunity to talk to older Americans who he would not have met in other circumstances and began recording their conversations. Side-stepping the conventions of oral history, David's method was to start conversations with offbeat questions such as :

What would you do if you were Governor?
Did the future turn out the way you thought it would?
Tell me about bowling
What does a sharp dressed man wear?
What makes you really mad?
Did the pilgrims play bingo on the Mayflower?

He selected a variety of the responses, typed them up, printed a small self-published magazine and named it the Duplex Planet. When the magazine was ready he gathered the Duplex Nursing Home residents together and gave them copies. They were interested to see their names in print, but when they realised that David was just giving out magazines and not sandwiches or cakes they quickly lost interest and drifted away. This lack of interest from the target audience was disheartening, but later that evening he showed copies to his art school friends, who appreciated it immediately and were soon reading it aloud to each other. Greenberger realised that Duplex Planet did have a readership after all, and made the inspired, audacious decision to keep publishing it. And he continued publishing Duplex Planet for over 30 years!

Duplex Planet appeared up to 9 times a year, containing a mixture of conversations, poetry and musings from nursing home residents and day centre users across the USA, accompanied with photographs. There were themed issues, issues dedicated to particularly talkative contributors and tribute issues to much-loved contributors who had died. Throughout this time Duplex Planet remained the same modest size and format, 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, 16-20 pages, offset printed with a fairly utilitarian layout. The most recent issue I have is #187 from 2010.

'Touching on the humorous and sometimes philosophical, the (stories) focus on thoughts, feelings and insights about life, loss and the passage of time but especially life lived vividly in the present'

Duplex Planet grew to encompass a range of publications and other media including book length compilations published in the UK and USA, a series of Duplex Planet Illustrated comic books published by Fantagraphics and several CDs, with David Greenberger reading monologues from the Duplex Planet with musical accompaniment as well as compilations with assorted Indie bands and musicians using texts from Duplex Planet as lyrics. These are all good and they're all on my shelves, but for me the original magazine itself is indispensable, because of the unique take on life it shares with readers, self belief in the original concept and impressive longevity.

Several times during quiet periods at book fairs or zine festivals, I've picked up an issue of Duplex Planet from my table to read and afterwards put it aside to keep for myself - an ultimate accolade."

Back issues of Duplex Planet are available here for $2.50 each or a giant Duplex Planet package of 50 different back issues, plus a free CD, is available for $35.00 - $65.00.

Mark Pawson is a self-confessed Image Junkie, Photocopier Fetishist and Print Gocco Fiend. He's a one-man production line and since 1987 has created a constant stream of artists books, postcards, badges, multiples and other essential ephemera. He has collaborated with jewellers Tatty Devine and worked with Levis Vintage Clothing. His publications are in the collections of the Chelsea College of Art Library, London, MOMA Library, NY and Bjork.

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